Time to read: 7 minutes. Experts say “building community,” “buzz” or “engagement in the conversation” is joy. But crazy people like me still like to SELL things. And so do a few remaining Ben Franklin stores. Today I’ll show you how a Ben Franklin store in rural Washington accidentally discovered how to create a winning social media strategy that drives more buyers into the store. I’ll also share a shortcut with you: Stop looking for “what works” from agencies and consultants. Start asking yourself, “what works in our stores?” Then use tools like mobile texting to supercharge it.
More and more I’m agreeing to do 30-minute “power consulting” sessions as part of my keynote speaking. I recently spoke at a large gathering of crafters — 10,000 strong! I ended up coming home with a few remarkable success stories and useful insights. Here’s a quick one that blew me away.
But first, here’s my big “ah-HA.” Every retail segment has the ability to create meaningful outcomes using social media — that produce profits (for the business) and value (for customers). Not Facebook friends nor Twitter followers. Not buzz. Not conversation. Not engagement. Sales. How? By looking at what already works — in the “dirt world” (offline) — and finding ways to apply new digital tools to multiply business (not marketing!) results.
While most of us are busy using Facebook, Twitter et al for the sake of using them (building some 20-something’s business!) some small store owners are quick to learn, execute and profit. Now the story…
Cut-to-the-chase in 60 seconds
I greeted Adrian Taylor Jr. and Adrian Sr., owners of 2 Ben Franklin craft stores. We quickly sat down in our cozy trade show “office booth.” The Taylors jumped at the opportunity to book time with someone they were told was an expert (heh, that’s me) in application of social media. As it turns out the Taylors were the experts.
The father-son duo had no agenda nor had attended my morning lecture. They just wanted the goods. Within 60 seconds they told me about their many-decades old Ben Franklin store and how they just finished up with their biggest holiday season ever. Ever. Ever? Ever… in the worst retail economy — EVER!
So at this point I’m all ears. I ask, “uh… how’d ya do that, gentlemen?”
A simple but effective charity promotion. A “giving tree” was set up in the storefront window adorned with ornaments. Each featured a child in need — a child of an incarcerated parent at the nearby prison. Children offered up their wish lists. Their gift requests to Santa included underwear. Socks. Hats. Jackets. Few toys.
The kids’ requests were just too much for the heart to bear — and they were all within arm’s reach. Local children.
News of the promotion spread like wildfire across the village (word of mouth). The store became a focal point of the community. Giving went wild — from minimum wage employees of the store to others in the community who were struggling themselves. The store was a-buzz all “season” long.
Oh, and by the way… people bought stuff.
They were in Ben Franklin after all — an affordable place to shop for a variety of gifts and crafts (during a severe recession). The Taylors designed many-a-good promotion for them to take advantage of. They prompted purchase behavior as best they could. And being in business for a few decades, they’re pretty good!
The secret sauce: A qualitative experience
In essence what worked? That’s right — what has worked for hundreds if not thousands of years. The store offered a genuine, authentic, remarkably relevant qualitative experience to children who needed help AND customers who wanted to authenticate themselves in a meaningful way. Customers always want to achieve larger meaning — they’re human!
And the store made sales. By happenstance? No. By design. Customers who appreciate the opportunity to authenticate themselves in meaningful ways are more willing to SPEND with brands that do the same — especially when prompted by a promotion or call to action.
The secret sauce here isn’t what countless brands seem to think it is: Giving to a charity or acting a certain way and then talking about it in “social media” and hoping that “buzz” generates positive sentiment about the brand that somehow result in preference… that somehow (the ghost that is “branding”) result in sales.
Digitize it — complete the experience
I quickly related to the Taylors that they missed nothing in my lecture. They already understand the “social secret sauce” and simply need to put it into action… which was the foundation of my lecture.
They simply needed to do the same thing — but using digital tools to improve the results for the store and customers.
Adrean Jr. was quick. He’s a Web savvy guy who, I soon discovered, has a LOT going on at their Web site. He quickly grasped the concept of using a variety of digital tools to help foster a wider array of qualitative experiences and outcomes — to customers and the business.
He related how days earlier he sent money to a Haiti earthquake relief effort. The organization he donated to used a simple SMS text to a specified number. That day he had received a text message BACK.
“The ship has pulled into doc and is offloading the food.”
The charity had just “closed the loop” or completed the INTERACTION with Adrean Jr. Rather than blast a Tweet and risk missing Adrean Jr. completely they chose the appropriate form of message delivery. They created a complete experience.
Adrean said, “Hey, we could do that.”
Nuf said. And so they shall in months ahead.
You are the expert
Adrean Jr. and Sr. put people into their stores using a tool they knew would work: Remarkably relevant, charitable donations during the holidays. Their store became relevant and useful to customers — in ways beyond products.
The Taylors developed and implemented a strategy. They didn’t “do the charity thing at the Holiday season” for the sake of “doing the charity thing.” Did it make them feel good? You bet. Did it help feed their families via sales? Yes again.
You already have the answers you’re seeking in consultants
In our rush to understand and make use of social media many of us fall into a trap. We believe we cannot possibly have the answers ourselves. It’s too technical.
We sometimes believe that the application of new tools like Facebook and social networks are more important than the outcome. Somehow if we broadcast stuff (our promotions, coupons, employee’s favorite nightclubs, what we’re having for lunch) customers will come.
We sometimes believe that just telling the boss “we’re on Facebook” is enough. Ok… but that’s not enough. A strategy is needed beyond “let’s do it.”
Might you already have the “social media secret sauce hokus pokus answer?” Might you be looking past what you already know you should be doing with social media marketing?
Results by design
In the online world we’re often told by the “experts” that the sales part doesn’t matter. “Participating transparently in the conversation” does. In other words, the way people feel about the Ben Franklin brand would have somehow been enough to be a good example of social media in action. The positive sentiment, the brand lift, the impressions, the sheer number of people buzzing or the gosh-darn “coolness” of it all. THAT makes it worth the time investment.
I say hooey. Show me the sales. Others will disagree and say “I don’t get it.” Those sales will somehow come to brands for being good corporate citizens. A “humanized brand” and one that is “transparent and honest” with customers. “We must have that too” they’ll say.
I do “get” one thing. The need for people to put bread on the table. And that demands taking marketing from an annual expense to a strategic investment. PROVE that social media marketing works. So bring it on “experts!”
And count on me to continue developing case studies with the Taylors — so long as they allow me to!
Oh — and do you all remember Ben Franklin stores?! I grew up with one — Estes rocket kits, individual candies for a nickle or dime. Remember? I had almost forgotten.
About the Author
Jeff Molander+ is the authority on making social media sell. He's a sought-after corporate trainer to small businesses and global corporations like Brazil's Petrobras. He's an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded the Google Affiliate Network. Jeff also serves as adjunct digital marketing faculty at Loyola University’s school of business. His new book, Off The Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You, is first to offer businesses a clear, practical way to create leads and sales with technology platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs.